Dealing with fussy eaters? This is my number one feeding tip

Every week I meet parents worried about what and how their children eat. These are for the most part happy, healthy kids with no medical problems. However, in all cases mealtimes are a battle ground and parents are just plain frustrated. Frustrated because they are serving the same foods day in and day out or because they’re often making not one but two or three separate meals. Sound familiar?

Managing fussy eating is about playing the long-game

It seems that ‘fussy eating’ is an ever-increasing problem in families today, my own included. The good news is that with the correct information and an openness to change your parenting style around food, you will see progress.

With good feeding strategies in place you create an environment which helps your child eat a wider variety of foods, allows more enjoyable family mealtimes and reduces time spent catering for individual children. Keep in mind, these are long term strategies and not overnight miracles. However, perseverance and consistency will pay off in the long-term, helping you to raise a happy, healthy eating adult.

It's not about getting food into your child

Before I talk to families about feeding strategies or what foods to serve there is one feeding tip I offer first. 'Feeding your child well does not mean ‘getting food into your child’. Hang on, I hear you say, that’s nuts. Of course, it’s a parent's job to make sure their child eats. No, it’s really not! Feeding is a partnership between you and your child and you each have your own set of responsibilities.

This isn’t just my opinion but based on the evidence-based theory called The Division of Responsibility, researched and developed by Ellyn Satter, Feeding Expert and Dietitian.

The division of responsibility

When you follow the Division of Responsibility in feeding your child will become and remain capable with eating. The Division of Responsibility in Feeding (sDOR) encourages you to take leadership with the WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE of feeding and let your child determine HOW MUCH and WHETHER to eat of what you provide.

At every feeding stage and age

The division of responsibility in feeding applies at every stage in your child’s growing-up years, from infancy through the early years through to adolescence. sDOR says to feed your baby on demand, letting him determine the timing and tempo of feeding.

As he develops and becomes more regular in his eating patterns, you gradually take on responsibility for when and where to feed.

Most children are ready to join in with the meals-plus-snacks routine of family meals by the end of the first year or the beginning of the second year. After that, parents need to maintain the structure of family meals and sit-down snacks throughout the growing-up years. When you do your jobs with feeding, your child will do his with eating.

Your jobs with feeding are to...

1: Choose and prepare the food.

2: Provide regular meals and snacks.

3: Make eating times pleasant.

4: Step-by-step, show your child by example how to behave at family mealtime.

5: Be considerate of your child’s lack of food experience without catering to likes and dislikes.

6: Not let your child have food or drinks (except for water) between meal and snack times.

7: Let your child grow into the body that is right for him.

Part of your feeding job is to trust your child to...

1: Eat the amount he needs.

2: Learn to eat the food you eat.

3: Grow predictably in the way that is right for him.

4: Learn to behave well at mealtime.

This is not just an approach I recommend to other parents, it’s one that I put into practice every day with my own four children. It’s a simple powerful concept yet parents can struggle to put it into practice.

Many parents struggle to trust their children around food especially in our current food environment of anxiety and hyper awareness of good nutrition.

On the other hand, it can be liberating to be free from micromanaging our children’s food intake.

So, take a deep breathe, trust yourself and your children and give it a go.

You might be amazed at the difference it makes. Make 'Parent Provides, Child Decides' your mantra too!

Caroline O'Connor is a mum of 4 (3 Men and one Little Lady!) and a registered dietitian. She is passionate about helping families establish healthy attitudes to food and eating. Her pet hates are food fads and nutritional pseudoscience! She founded Solid Start which aims to help parents raise happy, healthy eaters.